When we think of our romantic relationships, or even family / friendships, we have certain expectations that follow along. We likely think that respecting each other and others’ views is important (even if we don’t agree), that genuinely caring, supporting, and understanding each other are mainstays of the relationship. We might expect that close friends, family members, and romantic partners bring joy to our lives, and even through thick and thin, overall the relationship is positive, uplifting, and supportive. It is also a great joy to our hearts when we know WE are positive, uplifting, and supportive of the people we love. There is great reciprocity in healthy relationships, and while minor (even the occasional major) issues comes up, they are handled with care, consideration for the other person, and underlying all is a deep sense of respect. When we are in any type of a relationship with a narcissist (narc) however, these standards of expectation are not valid. Oh, they are valid for us, and we are not wrong for having these expectations. Where the validity falls short however, is on the side of the narc. Only you can decide how long, and to what degree, you continue placing healthy and normal expectations on a narc. Let me explain.
First, I’d like to say that if you have a narc in your life, your healthy and normal expectations likely result in a near-constant feelings of disappointment and hurt. This is because again (see previous posts), narcs do not process the world, nor everyone in it, in healthy normal ways. It bears repeating this fact, because to not understand and more importantly accept this fact, is to continue expecting things that the narc is unable to give. Narcissistic personality disorder is a lens through which everything is processed, and a narc’s reality is unlike our reality.
“We bring disappointment, hurt feelings, and anger into our lives when we expect ‘normal and healthy’ behavior from a narcissist. Narcissists, and those with other personality disorders, process the world and those of us in it, differently. Do not expect consistent, reliable, and ongoing ‘normal and healthy’ actions or reactions from a narc. You can give them a genuine and loving ear-to-ear smile, and the narc will think you are laughing at them. They process the world differently. This must be accepted. ” L.A. Gilliam
So, as we dig deeper, here are some typical things to look out for, to be aware of, if you think you may be involved, or have, a narcissist in your life:
- An inability to discuss even benign topics that are interpreted by the narc to be ‘against’ the narc in some way. This means if you question something they have done or said, the narc’s likely reaction will be one of “I’m not going to argue with you”, when in fact, you have only broached a simple topic with a simple question. The narc is likely to interpret any question regarding something they’ve done or said as our attempt to question their very lives and character; a question is never ‘just a question’ to the narc. They are likely to interpret your question as a personal attack, processing a simple question into a slight against them. If bringing up something to your partner, friend, or family member causes this type of reaction, rather than an authentic and genuine, respectful conversation, this is something of which to be aware. Narcs don’t like to be questioned because they often interpret this as a slight against them personally.
- A near-instant defensiveness directed at normal, every day conversations and discourse. You may find you are needing to really WORK at convincing the narc in your life that ‘you mean no harm’ or that ‘you didn’t mean anything’ by a certain comment or statement. You may find yourself working day in and day out to convince the narc that you are truly not meaning to hurt them in any way – narcissists are supremely sensitive and fragile, which they keep hidden from the world. Again, instant defensive posturing is because the narc just processes things differently than we do, taking normal everyday interactions as being against them somehow. I remember one time I was asked to help cut the narc’s fingernails, but I was right in the middle of a photo session. I calmly replied, “I’ll be right with you, I’m just finishing up these photos.” Instead of taking my statement at face value, the narc took this as the photo session was more important than helping cut their fingernails. The unhealthy processing of me telling the narc I’d be there in just a minute was interpreted as a slight against the narc! This is not normal. The narc had an immediate negative reaction to this very normal situation. After the narc went sulking into the bathroom, I was not spoken to for a couple of hours, you see, as punishment (we’ll get to that next). In a normal and healthy relationship, the response to my statement could have been, “Sure, whenever you’re ready”, or “Take your time”. The narcissist processes these situations and small events as being against their wishes, and that is not allowed. Narcissists don’t wait for anyone; their demands must be met quickly, even something as mundane as cutting fingernails.
- After a bizarre reaction to an every day event or situation, you are somehow punished. This is a complex part of narcissism; they will punish whomever they feel has worked against them, not met their immediate needs and demands, or questioned their actions or words. You see, in a narc’s mind, we do not have the right to our own opinions, needs, or wants; we do not have rights at all. This is because narcissists expect complete submission to their demands, and allow for little to no deviation from what THEY want at any given time, in any given situation. Punishment may consist of sulking at pouting, much like a child not getting their way. It also may consist of the very devastating ‘discard’, where the person simply eliminates you totally from their life. No calls made or returned. No texts, and no response to yours. No time together. If you share living quarters with this person, you could be in the same room and be met with complete silence, even if you try to start a conversation. I was once discarded for 4 days, in the middle of dinner in a restaurant, because I questioned the narcissist about the promised eviction notice to drug addict family members living in the house (the living arrangements were dangerous and on-going; drug addicts coming to the house, screens being cut to gain entry, the police out at 2:00 a.m., etc.). I was left high and dry while the narc walked out of the restaurant, with half-eaten plates of food on the table. This was the most significant indication that I was with someone quite mentally ill. Normal and healthy people do not act this way. These punishments are meant to control you, to make you feel guilty for upsetting the narc, and to show you the narc has power over you by basically treating you as if you don’t even exist. This is emotional abuse folks, make no mistake. Anyone employing such tactics is dangerous to your mental health. No one on the planet has the right to make you feel invisible.
- You notice over time that words and even promises are not followed up with action. Oh, how common it is for us to fall for pretty promises, words of assurances, and tall tales of this and that. Sadly, these things are rarely followed up as they were presented to us, yet, we hold onto the WORDS said to us, as if they were as valuable as gold. These words are just that with a narc – words. Unfulfilled promised and empty statements are part and parcel with a narcissist. Let patterns of behavior, not words, show you the character of the person. When in doubt, let time go by without judgment, and WATCH the person’s actions. Actions will always show you the true character of a person. Not words.
- An overcompensation in nearly every area of a narcissist’s life is common, as a cover-up for the empty void within the narcissist. At their core, a narcissist does not feel worthy, does not have a strong sense of self. Overcompensation is common and can be seen by an outward need for near-constant attention and admiration, needing to be around people excessively to get these needs met (narcs do not like being alone), a fixation on money that is correlated with self-worth (spending, saving, acquiring; financial abuse is typical in a narc relationship, or withholding money may be used as a punishment), career achievements which may be brought up over and over, and over-stimulation, to name a few examples of overcompensation. You may find the narc is fixated on ‘proving their worth’ to groups of people, will put themselves in situations where they are ‘the star’, or even fabricate stories to lead others to believe they have accomplished more than they really have. All of these things are driven by the need to be seen as, and feel, worthy.
- Your gut instincts, your stomach, your internal systems all seem to be on high alert when you are around this person. Developing health issues is common for anyone who has a narc in their lives for long. Stress, even when we don’t feel it directly, can be detrimental to our health. Feeling like we constantly have to walk on eggshells, watch what we say and do in fear of upsetting the narc (which will result in a punishment) takes a toll. This environment, if allowed to go on for long, will tax our stress hormones, and our bodies (not to mention our minds, heart, soul, and spirit of course), and significant health issues are common for narc abuse victims. There are extreme ups and downs in relationships with narcs; the good times never last long. Because of this constant upheaval, much of which cannot be predicted, we may be living in a constant state of heightened awareness and arousal, always ready for the next round of abuse (emotional abuse is abuse). Our bodies just cannot sustain this unhealthy environment for long without getting ill. Not to mention, the highs and lows of a toxic relationship can become addicting – TO US (upcoming post on relationship addiction). Often, our initial gut instincts will scream to us that someone is not healthy; listen to those instincts.
So, here we are. The above outlines some indicators if you are trying to determine if you are involved with a toxic person or narcissist, or have a friend or family member who you believe may be. The bottom line; spending time with someone who is not healthy for us, who brings more negativity than positivity, someone who treats us poorly (whether a narc or not), should not be in our lives. It truly matters not who they are TO us, even if they are a family member. We must protect ourselves against such relationships, and guard our own mental health as the real treasure it is. LISTEN to how you feel AFTER spending time with someone; are you lifted up and energized, even feeling peaceful and content? Or, are you exhausted, feeling as though you just ran an emotional marathon? Please, consider the people in your life carefully. It might be time to assess if they are healthy for you. Or not. Best, L.A.